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MALTATODAY 16 April 2023

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Page 27 of 39

I have written quite frequently about the attitude 'don't rock the boat' some, or rather most Mal- tese politicians in office have. This attitude came to the fore again when the Nationalist and Labour MEPs present for the vote once again became allies in opposing the Energy Perfor- mance of Buildings Directive in the European Parliament. Labour MEPs Alfred Sant, Alex Agius Saliba and Cyrus Engerer and Nationalist MEP David Ca- sa all voted against the propos- al, which called for an EU-wide climate-neutral building sector by 2050. Fortunately, the EPP split on the vote and the support of the progressive and Green groups meant that the proposed Directive was approved none- theless. Colleague Irish Green MEP Ciáran Cuffe ably spear- headed the directive through parliament. The EP-approved directive now goes to the so- called trialogue phase of negoti- ations. Of course, the Maltese MEPs and their respective parties tell us that Malta is particular, the same old Maltese-exceptional- ism trope we are fed over and over again. The reality is that zero-carbon buildings by 2050 – and all the other intermediate targets – are necessary, impor- tant and beneficial to us all. What the Maltese MEPs did – and what the Maltese government will probably do at EU Council level - is an attempt at procrasti- nation, another gift to satisfy the greedy speculator-construction lobby, who want a business as usual scenario. Maltese governments have a history of pandering to this lobby, from the huge specula- tion-frenzy created by the Na- tionalist rationalisation and lo- cal plan debacle in 2006, to the constant changes in zoning and 'exceptions' as a thank you to Stivala and friends by Muscat, Abela and Labour. Right on cue Labour MEPs Alex Agius Saliba and Cyrus En- gerer, two of barely a handful of S&D MEPs voting against, bring up the 'protection of the vulner- able' excuse. Engerer also uses the usual Maltese Labour and Nationalist trope (depending which one of them is in govern- ment) labelling requirements for energy efficiency a 'tax'. Laughable. The vulnerable can and should be protected by the provision of energy efficient so- cial housing, by requiring rental property to be energy efficient, and by rent-support schemes. Government can also encour- age housing cooperatives and affordable housing schemes. En- ergy efficient affordable housing and housing coops can actually push prices down by offering al- ternative and different housing options to people. What gov- ernments have done however is encourage a free-for-all and a weakening of standards over the years. We are in a risible situa- tion where old buildings are ac- tually more energy efficient than newer hollow-brick properties, to the shame of our so-called 'leaders'. A government commissioned report, paid for through EU funds, the Long Term Renova- tion Strategy 2050 (2021) speaks of a lack of enforcement of the minimum energy performance requirements for buildings and compliance mechanisms to ensure that the standards are reached. It mentions a 'Docu- ment F', part of the Minimum Energy Performance Require- ments for Buildings regulations that according to the Regulator for Energy & Water Services' website, 'stipulates that rain- water that falls on roofs shall not be allowed to drain into the public sewer or into public place or thoroughfare but shall be collected in suitable wells or cisterns within the site of the building'. Surprisingly, the re- port says that this is 'not being fully enforced'. Fully? It has not been enforced for ages. So, is Malta supposed to be given any special treatment just because it fails to enforce even long stand- ing regulations? PN MEP hopeful Peter Agius also joins the bandwagon – at least he's (shamefully, I would add) towing the EPP-line in op- posing change and trying to sab- otage the European Green Deal and Fit for 55 package. He says that prices of properties would go up by some €36,000. This as- sessment is simplistic. Professor Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Fac- ulty of the Built Environment, when confronting speculator Sandro Chetcuti on TVM dur- ing a discussion programme In- sights on 3 November 2022, has in fact asserted what should be a well-known fact: that the prop- erty market is not cost-driven. The asking price of a property reflects the market and not the actual costs to the developer. If say, Sandro Chetcuti cannot sell a property, he would have to reduce its price and make less profit. Despite their rhetoric in fa- vour of 'the people' (whoever these 'people' are!), governments have actually pushed prices up by schemes enticing foreigners to buy property in Malta. The setting of a minimum purchase price has pushed up prices to artificially meet that minimum price, whatever the 'quality' of the property. Government in- centives for say first time buyers, have also had the effect of push- ing prices up by the value of the incentive. No wonder specula- tors lobby for such schemes. If banks demand energy effi- ciency certificates as a condi- tion for loans, and if they only lend for properly built proper- ties then sellers will have to adjust their prices, and reduce their profits to actually make a sale. Bank of Valletta's Chair- man Gordon Cordina recently spoke of impending regulatory pressures to only finance re- source-efficient, environmental and climate-friendly real estate projects. The effect? Less cow- boys who want to make a quick buck selling sub-standard prop- erty, more skilled and technical jobs for serious construction in- dustry professionals, and prop- erly built, comfortable houses for owners and renters. Actual enforcement of energy efficien- cy regulations coupled with an- ti-speculation measures will also help. Additionally, government should have long-term schemes for energy efficiency measures for certain demographics. Whatever the rhetoric of the apostles of 'business as usual', which actually favours the con- struction cowboys, the energy performance of buildings direc- tive is an important step for- ward. Government – that is all of us – cannot afford blanket subsi- dies on energy for much longer. Energy efficient buildings make sense for businesses, and make sense for renters and home own- ers alike. Energy efficient build- ings improve our quality of life and reduce energy costs. They reduce the bleeding of money out of the country for import- ed fuels and energy, freeing it up for other socially important public spending. Energy efficient buildings mean a healthier envi- ronment inside new buildings, improving air quality, and a re- duction in pollutants and noise, not to mention a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions neces- sary to combat climate change. The directive will also mean quality jobs in the construction, renovation, and renewable en- ergy industries, with small busi- nesses standing to gain. To reach the target of zero-car- bon we cannot postpone any more, we must start changing now, otherwise a sudden change will hurt. True leaders explain why the change is necessary, most Mal- tese politicians however just whinge, whine, and attempt to postpone to please the few in whose interest it is to make as much profit as possible even if selling or renting sub-standard, shoddy property. 12 OPINION maltatoday | SUNDAY • 16 APRIL 2023 Ralph Cassar is ADPD – The Green Party Secretary General The shoddy low-standard coalition Ralph Cassar

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